I am a student learning doing photography as a hobby, I came across shutterstock and heard it is a way of making money by contributing and selling your images.

My first image was rejected with reasons but I can't quite understand these reasons. The image to me looks fine.

enter image description here

So far looking at it from my camera it looks fine. The background was purposely blurred out.

Here is their reason:

Focus: The main subject is out of focus or is not in focus due to camera shake, motion blur, overuse of noise reduction, or technical limitations of the equipment used (e.g. autofocus searching, camera sensor quality, etc).

Noise / Film Grain : Content contains chrominance noise, luminance noise, sharpening noise, or film grain that detracts from the main subject.

Just to add a bit more information I took this using a standard lens.

  • 23
    \$\begingroup\$ Unrelated to my answer, I'd like to thank you for posting an actual example of a Shutterstock rejection -- it'll help provide me with ammunition the next time my partner insists I try putting my (film, mostly B&W) photos on Shutterstock to make money from my photography. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 16:35
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ user94771, you could ask Shutterstock for clarification or if a human was responsible for the rejection, or to have a human look at it. Cant hurt to find out what they say. We can not speak for them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alaska Man
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 17:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ i wonder if an algorithm would confuse the flower's colour with CA. \$\endgroup\$
    – ths
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 19:03
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ What exactly do Shutterstock mean by "the main subject"? The largest stem, in the center of the frame, is indeed out of focus, and (as some answers said) only a small part of the stems on the right are in focus. And more than half the total area is out-of-focus background. None of the above is meant as artistic criticism of the image, of course, but as an answer says, Shutterstock don't buy art. \$\endgroup\$
    – alephzero
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 1:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ To me the 'the main subject' is the flowers just to the left of center. Which are out of focus. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 1:36

6 Answers 6


I think your artistic decisions in this image are fine, and it is a worthy effort, but I also think that is exactly why Shutterstock rejected your image: they don't buy art.

I would suggest that Shutterstock is interested in images that can be utilized commercially, where the subject is critical to conveying whatever the client wishes. Should the client wish the image to be blurred or out of focus, they have the option of doing that themselves in photoshop.

You are looking at the artistic features of the image, where you have made the artistic decisions yourself, and left none to the customer. This is perfect when you are selling images for the art of it, but when selling for commercial reuse, you will likely find more success when you focus on the subject matter (pun really not intended), rather than the art.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ You said: "focus on the subject matter" Unintended puns are the best puns. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alaska Man
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 19:21
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the help. It makes a lot of sense. Initially when I took the picture I never heard of shutterstock. Only 2 days after. Now I have a photography commercial understanding. It makes sense as to why it got rejected as it limits intractability from the consumer with the image. Thanks for the insight \$\endgroup\$
    – user94771
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 8:27
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ The notion that Shutterstock does not buy art, is not true. They buy this type of image all the time. I speak from experience. This image has technical limitations that need to be overcome which they have listed. As soon as they are rectified, it will be accepted. I have posted an answer on this thread regarding what needs doing. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 9:53
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Adding a blurred background that effectively emulates bokeh is not trivial. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 23:36

Doing an edge detection, this is where your image is sharp:


If I draw a rectangle around it, it is 475x514 pixels, or 244kpx² out of 4600kpx². That's just 5%!

Even for a picture with blurred background, my expectation would be more like 30%. An acceptable image (just considering sharpness) could be

30% sharpness

For the above picture, I still see a lot of room for improvement: Improvements

From a design perspective, as a buyer I'd also like the flower to be sharp down to the bottom of the image, so it would be possible to crop the flower and have a transparent background. In your case, this would require a different perspective or a tilt-shift lens.

I do not agree with @cmason that the whole picture should be sharp. I don't get enough time (by my boss) to turn a sharp picture into one with a realistic looking blurry background. I'd better find a picture that fits my needs.


At least as of a few years ago, there was no "algorithm". The only automated reason for a rejection, when I was there, was submitting an identical image to one already on the system. Everything else was done by trained humans. I don't believe it's changed terribly much in the intervening years.

This isn't a saleable image by Shutterstock standards, because there is so little in-focus subject, and so much artistic style already applied. A suitable image gives the customer opportunities to use it creatively. if a customer wants a blurred image, they will blur it, and they will decide how much and where. If the customer wants the image tinted or toned, they will apply those effects to match with the property they're using the image in. An image like yours has very limited applicability because those decisions are already made. It's pretty, but it's not commercial.

I worked for Shutterstock for four years — as a software developer, not a reviewer, but I like to think I learned a thing or two :)

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks this is very insightful. I took this image before I was introduced to shutterstock. Now at least I know a bit about customer expectation. \$\endgroup\$
    – user94771
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 8:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe I am misunderstanding this answer but it's almost certainly done by ML algos instead of humans at this point. The humans in the past were the training data. (this is also how plant ID apps evolved) \$\endgroup\$
    – eps
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 16:00

I could see their point if it was a human rejection - just wanted a bit more of it to be sharp. There's really only a couple of the buds close to being properly sharp. I could see them wanting at least half of the one stalk, at minimum. I'm not seeing any noticeable noise, but the bokeh looks 'edgy'. Perhaps a little chromatic aberration in the bokeh too. It doesn't bother me massively, but it's just a tad 'edgy' & cluttered, which could potentially be distracting.

I'd be fascinated to know whether they'd have accepted it like this - enter image description here - which very slightly tightens the in-focus area & softens the bokeh, taking a bit of the edge out of the colour aberration in the out-of focus areas.
I didn't do a lot to it, you'll probably need both in consecutive tabs & switch between.

I did this in CameraRAW - pulling a little Texture, pushing Clarity to compensate, then a little bit of Sharpening with some Noise Reduction to match.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ That's good corrections you have made. My eye is now drawn to the in focus part of the image👍. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 9:57

Here are a few suggestions that will help you for future submissions.

Image Caption / Image Title

The correct description plays a huge role in the image being accepted or not. An image such as this, needs a caption such as the following, or something to this effect

“A single in focus strand of purple lavender against a sea of blurry and out of focus purple flowers”

Because the depth of field in your image is so shallow, a caption such as this ensures that the image is reviewed correctly.


When taking images handheld, most images suffer from Motion blur. Images such as flowers in a field, suffer additionally from wind! So, even if you were using a tripod, there is no guarantee that the shutter speed was sufficient enough to capture a pin sharp image.

In the case of this image, the main subject it is not sharp and suffers from motion blur of about -70-75 degrees(going upwards towards 11oclock) at a radius of about 8-10 pixels. This needs correcting.

In addition to this, the main subject also lacks contrast and definition and that also increases the possibility of the main subject being viewed as out of focus.

Chromatic Aberration

The motion blur around the main subject along with the back/side light, has created a Blue/Magenta tint that needs to be taken out.

Camera limitations

Finally, your camera plays a big part on the quality of the image. What may look good on the back of the camera or great on a monitor, may not transpire to look so great when its viewed at 200%.

You have to remember, it is the Stock agencies reputation at stake and therefore your image will be scrutinised at not just a maximum of 100% resolution, but possibly a lot higher.

Along with all these technical issues, your image also needs to highlight the main subject so that it's the brightest part of the image and where your eyes settles first. Other brighter areas need to have the highlights reduced.

Perhaps, for this type of image, you need a lens that can provide a more “creamier” background blur so that there is a clear definition between the subject and background with the right amount of contrast.

Due to the image being backlit, or slightly to the side, I can only presume you have lifted the shadows or the camera automation has lifted the shadows and this has introduced noise.

Hope this helps


On the focus front, you have a single stalk of blossoms in focus, and many more of the same sort out of focus directly behind the subject; this may have caused either an algorithm or a person tasked to examine far too many new user submissions to tag your photo for focus. Relative to grain, I don't really see any, but the focus issue could lead an algorithm (especially) to misidentify chrominance noise.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.